Psychology and Catholicism : contested boundaries
The science and profession of psychology emerged in the mid- to late nineteenth century. In all its varieties, including “pop psychology,” psychology is one of the ways that we in the contemporary world ask the questions: “Who am I?” “What sort of things are we?” “How shall I live my life?” “What makes me happy, sad, confused, anxious?” These questions arise not only in the abstract, they occur also in activities of healing, correcting, adjusting, guiding, treating, managing, counseling. Even though in many quarters, psychologists have distanced themselves from such questions – call them philosophical – the inescapable truth is that they surface in all psychologies, pure and applied.
Psychology asks these questions and psychology answers them. Questing for the nature of human nature, of mental illness, of cognition, of personal growth, for the tasks and challenges of childhood and old age, and in countless other ways, psychology addresses the vexations of living and dying.
And so psychology is an ethical science, ethics being the discipline that seeks to know how we should live our lives. Textbooks and clinicians and researchers, in one way or another, advise us how to conduct our lives. At the very least, they provide information, but all such information implicitly offers guidelines for conduct: description is prescription. This is not an indictment of psychology, for there is great effort to be fair and neutral within the field; it is simply stating the obvious case that no science that describes and explains human behavior and mental life can avoid indicating better and worse ways to act, think, and feel.
For these reasons, psychology makes claims in areas already occupied by the religious traditions – traditions that not only have positions on our nature and our place in the cosmos, but also on how we should act, think, and feel. Religions offer care for the soul in sickness, depravity, and loss. The Catholic Church is no exception in this regard, having a long history of reckoning with the nature and rectification of human life.
So when psychology emerged in the nineteenth century, and as it continued to grow, bubbling forth from the ground of twentieth-century life, there were bound to be points of difference and convergence between psychology and Catholic thought and traditions. The philosophical presuppositions of some prominent psychologists, for example, were precisely the kinds of doctrines identified in the 1918 Code of Canon Law (Codex iuris canonici, 1918) as being antithetical to the Catholic faith. Some psychotherapeutic practices, in how they encouraged patients to think and act, were called immoral by some Church officials and by some Catholic psychologists.
The fact is that psychologists take positions on ground deemed sacred and protected by the Church. Psychological expertise proclaimed on this sacred ground cannot be sheltered from religious counterclaims when the Church has provided other knowledge and guidance for centuries.
This book explores some of these conflicts and convergences. The primary focus is on what those psychologists who were also Catholic said and did about the relationships between modern psychology and Catholicism.
1 An introduction
2 The major fault line: modernism and psychology
3 Neoscholastic psychology
4 Psychology as the boundary: Catholicism, spiritualism, and science
5 Psychoanalysis versus the power of will
6 From out of the depths: Carl Jung’s challenges and Catholic replies
7 Institutionalizing the relationship
8 Humanistic psychology and Catholicism: dialogue and confrontation
9 Trading zones between psychology and Catholicism
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